I grew up watching The Jetsons, where in the future, humans pop pills that fill them up instead of eating. The Jetsons creators were right that technology advances will change how we eat, but it won’t be a gimic in pill form.
Right now there’s an urgent calling for a better way to eat: the need to combat climate change, end world hunger, stop animal cruelty, and improve our health, thereby changing the landscape of the entire healthcare system. What if there’s a panacea for the biggest global crises simply by changing what’s on our plate? That’s what Silicon Valley is making a reality right now through plant-based meats, clean meat and other alternatives to animal food products that aim to completely replace modern day animal agriculture practices known as factory farming.
This movement has the backing of Bill Gates, Richard Branson, and Suzy and Jack Welch, who have all invested in this future. And Eric Schmidt, The Executive Chairman of Google’s parent company, Alphabet, recently stated that a vegan revolution is coming and the move away from animal products and towards plant-based protein is the number one game changing trend of the future.
“A vegan revolution is coming.” — Eric Schmidt
But this isn’t strictly about our conscience. This is a real, multi-billion dollar business opportunity. These are social enterprises, where the impact on social good meets the potential to make money. Silicon Valley is betting on the future of plant-based meats and “clean meat” to solve the world’s biggest problems and satiate our taste buds.
On September 13, 2017, the Good Food Institute and Plant Based Foods Association released data from a study run by Nielsen. It states:
· The plant-based foods category grew 8.1% in the past year, topping $3.1 billion in sales.
· Plant-based meat sales grew at a rate of 6%
· Plant-based milk sales continue to grow (3.1%), even as cow’s milk declined by 5% over the past year
There are four high-profile companies working on traditional meat alternatives: Impossible Foods, Memphis Meats, Hampton Creek, and Beyond Meat. All four companies have significant venture capital backing, are making giant strides in food science, are launching successful products. They’re also changing the way traditional food companies like Tyson, General Mills and Cargill think about investing their money.
There’s a divide in strategy between these companies that is important to note: Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat are focused entirely on plant-based alternatives. Memphis Meats is creating “clean meat” that replicates the muscle of meat from a slaughtered animal in a lab setting. Hampton Creek is investing in both areas: both plant-based substitutes to eggs and clean meat.
Many say the current forerunner in the race to create the best plant-based meat substitutes is Impossible Foods, who has created the most realistic plant meat in existence with their Impossible Burger. They’ve received $257 million in funding to date, and the most recent round of $75 million included Bill Gates as a top investor. Impossible Foods has patented technology, heme, an iron an iron-containing molecule that is super abundant in meat, but also found in plants. “The heme molecule in plant-based heme is atom-for-atom identical to the heme molecule found in meat. It’s what makes the Impossible Burger so rich and decadent.” Impossible Foods has plans for plant-based replacements for beef, chicken, lamb, pork, milk, cheese, eggs, and fish.
“We want to completely replace animals as a food production technology by 2035. We are working on producing all foods that we get from animals.” — Impossible Foods CEO, Patrick Brown
“We’re not a burger company,” company chief communications officer Rachel Konrad said. “We’re a tech platform for food. Our first product was ‘proof of concept.’ We can have second, or tenth, products after that.”
Meanwhile, Memphis Meats, the leading clean meat company has already produced beef, chicken and duck directly from animal cells without the need to raise and slaughter animals. Their lab-grown clean meat is said to be indistinguishable in taste from slaughtered animal meat. They’ve raised $22M in funding to date. The latest $17M Series A round was led by DFJ, a leading venture capital firm that has previously backed Tesla, SpaceX and Skype. Food industry giant Cargill invested in Memphis Meats as part of the round, as well as Bill Gates, Richard Branson, Suzy and Jack Welch. Their goal is to get lab grown meat onto retail shelves by 2021.
Hampton Creek is best known for their convincing egg-free Just Mayo line of products. They’ve raised $220M in funding, with the most recent $100M Series D round in 2016. CEO Josh Tetrick announced on LinkedIn that they too are working on clean meat technologies, including platforms and licensing models that will allow other companies to leverage their research advances.
“At current rates, production of meat and seafood around the world will double to 1.2 trillion pounds by 2050. Our planet cannot afford to supply the water, fuel, pesticides, and fertilizer that industrialized animal production requires. It can’t afford the polluted water or the biodiversity loss. It can’t afford the moral inconsistencies.” — Hampton Creek CEO, Josh Tetrick
Beyond Meat creates plant-based meat alternatives, including the popular Beyond Burger, which is a convincing hamburger that “looks, cooks, and satisfies so much life beef it’s in the meat section of grocery stores.” The Beyond Burger is the first highly available retail ground beef substitute that satisfies both meat eaters and vegans alike. Beyond Meat has raised $17M to date, and has attracted strange bedfellows in its list of investors: Tyson Foods and The Humane Society of the United States. The Humane Society of the United States has conducted undercover investigations of suppliers of Tyson Foods, including this one in 2012 and been an outspoken critic of Tyson and other meat company’s mistreatment of farm animals. Other investors in Beyond Meat include General Mills and Bill Gates.
The documentary Cowspiracy explains the staggering environmental destruction caused by animal agriculture. Here are some of the startling facts:
· Livestock accounts for 51% of all worldwide greenhouse gas emissions
· Growing feed crops for livestock consumes 56% of water in the US
· Livestock or livestock feed occupies 1/3 of the earth’s ice-free land
· A farm with 2,500 dairy cows produces the same amount of waste as a city of 411,000 people
· Animal agriculture is responsible for up to 91% of Amazon rainforest destruction
A study published in Nature journal states, that if current global trends towards increased meat consumption continue, “By 2050 if unchecked, would be a major contributor to an estimated 80% increase in global agricultural greenhouse gas emissions from food production and to global land clearing.”
Meanwhile, a person who follows a vegan diet produces the equivalent of 50% less carbon dioxide, uses 1/11th oil, 1/13th water, and 1/18th land compared to a meat-lover for their food.
It’s projected that we will have 9.6 billion people on the planet by the year 2050. Yet, even with our current population of 7 billion people, 850 million people suffer from starvation. The world currently produces about enough calories to feed 10–11 billion people. So what’s happening? The problem is we feed and slaughter 70 billion farm animals each year, not including sea creatures. 36% of the globally grown crops to livestock and not people, according to a 2013 study published in the journal Environmental Research Letters. Feeding crops to farm animals is incredibly inefficient compared with feeding those crops directly to human beings. For every 100 calories of grain we feed animals, we only get back:
· 40 calories of milk
· 22 calories of eggs
· 12 calories of chicken
· 10 calories of pork
· 3 calories of beef
I often hear people incorrectly state that we can’t afford the resources it would take for everyone to shift to a vegan diet. That sentiment is based on the faulty assumption that we would have to grow even more crops to sustain a global vegan diet, whereas a vegan diet actually has the potential to end world hunger well into the future!
In 2013, Kaiser Permanente, the largest healthcare organization in the US, published a nutritional update for physicians, which advised doctors to recommend plant-based diets, “to all their patients, especially those with high blood pressure, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, or obesity.”
They list the health benefits of a plant-based diet as:
· Lower cholesterol, blood pressure, and blood sugar
· Reversal or prevention of heart disease and diabetes
· Longer life
· Healthier weight
· Lower risk of developing cancer and diabetes
· May slow the progression of certain types of cancer
· Improved symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis
· Fewer medications
In September 2017, Kaiser reasserted this stance in its passionate call to action for doctors to prescribe healthy lifestyle changes, including a plant-based diet, as the primary form of medical care. It’s important to note that clean meat, though better in many respects than factory farmed meat, does not provide any health benefits over the alternative.
“Many deaths and many causes of pain, suffering, and disability could be circumvented if the medical community could effectively implement and share the power of healthy lifestyle choices. We believe that lifestyle medicine should become the primary approach to the management of chronic conditions and, more importantly, their prevention. For future generations, for our own health, and for the Hippocratic Oath we swore to uphold (“First do no harm”), the medical community must take action.”
Factory farming is responsible for cruelty against sentient beings on a scale that is unprecented. 99% of animal products in the US come from animals that are raised in the hellish conditions of factory farms. Because of intense lobbying from the meat industry, there are almost no laws that protect farm animals against cruelty the way dogs and cats are protected.
60+ billion animals a year are subjected to intense confinement and painful procedures like de-beaking or having their testicles or tails removed without anesthesia. Here’s an undercover video from Mercy for Animals that shows the horrific suffering pigs in a Hormel farm endured.
I have seen first-hand the horrific conditions that pigs have to endure in transport between factory farms and the slaughterhouse. I made this YouTube video that shows what I witnessed outside the Farmer John slaughterhouse in Los Angeles.
Thankfully, more and more people are becoming aware of these atrocities thanks to undercover work of organizations like Mercy for Animals, PETA, and Compassion over Killing, among others. Much of the growth in the plant-based foods industry is a result of increased consumer rejection of the needless animal suffering involved in modern day agriculture.
The factory farming industry is ripe to be disrupted, given the magnitude of the problems associated with modern animal agriculture, including the fact that it is completely unsustainable: environmentally, economically, and socially. And technology advances have made a viable future for alternatives that taste as good, are better for you, and will be affordable.
Millenials and their spending habits are big contributors this shift. They eat out more than any previous generation. And they are conscientious eaters, who are demanding healthier, more sustainable food options. A staggering 40% of millennials are reportedly taking on a plant-based diet.
I’m optimistic that in my lifetime, I will see an end to factory farming and the devastation it leaves in its wake. From where I sit, the future of food looks bright: healthier, more sustainable, more compassionate. And delicious.